Department of Transportation Garrett Eucalitto unveils a new customer experience action plan Monday as a train on the Hartford Line stops in Meriden. Credit: Mike Savino photo

MERIDEN — Looking to boost ridership across the state, the Department of Transportation Monday announced its first ever customer experience action plan for public transportation. 

The plan involves steps to bolster both bus and rail, including faster service and newer technology in an attempt to improve user experience. 

The upgrades also come, though, at a time when the state will have to cut rail service for both Shoreline East and Metro-North because of cuts in the upcoming budget. 

“If we provide a better experience for people to get to public transportation and while they’re on public transportation, hopefully we’ll keep them there,” DOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto said, adding he hoped a rebound in ridership would lead to more funding in the future. 

The action plan includes improvements the DOT has already made to both bus and rail service, as well as near and long term projects. 

Some of the completed improvements include mobile ticketing for bus riders, new platforms at rail stations and ParkConneCT, the addition of bus stops within walking distance of some of the most popular state parks.

The DOT also recently launched Transit Royale, which lets users see more lines and schedule trips in advance. 

Eucalitto said bus riders will also see more expansions to service soon. The newly adopted budget, which takes effect Saturday, includes more lines on Sunday and additional late night service on Saturday. 

He also hopes to share milestones on major long-term projects in the future. Notably, he said the DOT is negotiating with a vendor for new rail cars. 

He expects to wrap up those talks within the next two months, at which time he can share details with the public about those cars. 

Eucalitto said the state also received a federal grant to help create a unified system for payments and fares — one regional transit district can also use — and he hopes to launch that next year. 

Sen. Christine Cohen Credit: Mike Savino photo

The DOT also plans to continue improvements for bus service, including upgraded bus stops around the state that include better lighting, seating and real time updates on each bus’ status. 

“We call them amenities, but they’re really not amenities — they’re what people should deserve at a bus stop,” Eucalitto. 

Other long term projects the DOT says are “in progress” include faster train speed, new rail stations and enhanced wireless internet connectivity. 

It’s all an effort to keep riders coming back. 

“From the moment someone takes public transportation or decides that they need to take a trip somewhere, that’s all part of the customer experience,” Eucalitto said. 

He added the action plan is based on input from 10,000 interactions with the public pop-up events and focus groups, a survey and other attempts to get feedback. 

Lawmakers said they support they’re willing to make sure the projects have the necessary funding. 

“This is really a bold, bold vision for the state of Connecticut,” said Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, co-chair of the legislature’s Transportation Committee. “It’s saying ‘we are a 21st Century state.’ That we will meet this moment.” 

But the upgrades come as the state is also planning cuts to Shoreline East and Metro-North after Gov. Ned Lamont proposed cutting subsidies for both. Eucalitto said this is due to a drop in ridership, but he pushed back against criticism that this would dramatically hurt either line. 

The state is still reviewing how it will reduce service. Eucalitto said DOT will need to hold public hearings as part of the process, and he hopes to have a final decision by mid October. 

“We are looking at each individual train, and we’re looking at the ridership on each individual train — how many people are using that train,” he said. 

Opponents have said cutting the number of trains for either line will make service less convenient, leading to bigger drops in ridership. 

Eucalitto said DOT will try to make sure trains are available when ridership is at its highest and see if new forms of service can be added to meet customer feedback. He also reiterated his hope that improvements in rider experience will bring more customers back. 

Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chair of the Transportation Committee, agreed the only way to see a boost in service will be if ridership increases. 

“That’s what we’re hearing consistently, that’s why the governor looked to make cuts on some of these rail lines,” said Cohen, whose Senate district covers the shorelines from East Haven to Madison. 

Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati embraced the plan unveiled Monday, saying mass transit has been a central piece of the city’s downtown development plan. 

The city has embraced housing and other developments around the train stop on the Hartford Line. 

“We’ve continued to build off that and we’re pleased to see the developments that the DOT is taking,” he said.